Team 4 will farewell Australian shores next Saturday. Team Leader, Dr Peter Shakes will be joined by Dr Ashley Freeman and Dr Andrew Frame in the first week, who will then be replaced by the redoubtable Dr Mary Tuituinnik in Week 2. The Timorese team members include Nico Pires, TLDP’s hard-working dental therapist and new Dad, and Ana Paula Dos Santos Tavares Salgado, the team’s translator and dental assistant. Team 4 has already been plagued by misdirected supplies, team members dropping out, and confusion with scheduling;. Hopefully, all the wrinkles have been ironed out now and this team will have some smooth sailing once they get to TL. They are heading to Atsabe and Maubara. Good luck and have fun Team!
At this point in time we would like to thank all our generous donors of cold hard cash. Maintaining a dental program is not a cheap operation. While we try and make our funds stretch as far as possible by utilising volunteers – who all pay their own way – as the muscle of the program, and by obtaining generous donations of dental materials, we aim to reduce the welfare component of our program in order to make the program more sustainable.
That is why we employ a number of local Timorese people. We employ a full-time Timorese dental therapist, Nicolau Pires, who runs the program while the teams are not in Timor Leste. We employ Bonifacio Cardoso on a casual basis, to handle our registrations and liaise with some of the outlying communities; and when the teams are in-country, we also employ a slew of dental assistants, translators and sometimes, drivers. Now, we are funding a Timorese sister, Sr Delfina, to attend university in Indonesia so that she can become a dentist. It’s a 5 year course and a massive financial commitment for the TLDP. She starts in September this year and the cost of the first year’s tuition is USD 29 000. It’s a lot of money! It is our hope that once she graduates and gets a bit of experience, she will then become the backbone of our program.
So apart from helping us to purchase and maintain our dental gear in our clinics, and to maintain our car and the Sisters’ car which the teams borrow, and helping to support three other Timorese government clinics, your precious donations are helping us to provide employment, training and experience for young Timorese people. Thank you for investing in their futures.
Thank you, in particular, to the International College of Dentists, which has pledged $4000 annually for Sr Delfina’s education. Thank you to the Rotary Club of Bendigo who recently gave us $2000 to buy local anaesthetic for all the clinicians we support, as well as some instruments that were on Dr Inda’s Wishlist. Thank you to the Melbourne Dental Wellbeing clinic, who threw a film night and donated $1405 to the program, just for the hell of it. Thank you to everyone who has given us even a small donation – every little bit counts!
As I write this, our next team is preparing to head off to TL this weekend. Team 2 consists of Dr John Moran, Dr John Whyte and Emma Whyte , as well as Nico Pires and Ana Paula do Santos Tavares Salgado. They will be living it up in Railaco! Good luck team!
Team 1 arrived home a week ago, tired – and some of us sick – but triumphant. This trip was difficult to organise and challenging on the ground due to the conglomeration of different organisations during the first week- The Timor Leste Dental Program had been joined by Solar Smiles Dental Charity (SSDC), the Bendigo Maubisse Friendship Committee (BMFC), and the Maubisse Referral Hospital (MRH). We all had different ideas and agendas for this first week, but we shared a common goal – to improve the dental health of Maubisse Subdistrict; this made us a highly effective team.
Week one saw us in Maubisse Subdistrict. The TLDP consisted of overall team leader, Dr Blanche Tsetong, the TLDP’s Timorese dental therapist, Mr Nico Tolentino Faria, and translator (as well as sterilisation nurse and dental assistant), Miss Isabel Noronha Pereira de Lima Maia. SSDC was represented by founder, dental recruiter and former dental assistant, Mrs Kim Groizard. Standing with a foot in both camps was Dr Phil Hill, who was volunteering for the TLDP, but was also a member of the SSDC. Dr George Waters represented the BMFC and the MRH brought into the mix Dr Inda Zulmira Dias, dental therapists, Mr Armando Da Costa Martins and Mr Ricardo Mendonça, and assistants, Carlotta and Imelda.
The TLDP and MRC spent the first couple of days in Turiscai treating the community and the school. Turiscai is and isolated village 1 1/2 hours from Maubisse town along the type rough, dirt ridge track that TL is famous for. The scenery is spectacular. We were very busy – the community rarely gets dental services – but our plans for a community oral health workshop were stymied by the campaigning for the upcoming election. (Pic: Phil, Nico & Ota)
The next 3 days the TLDP and MRC visited Rimori School, in a village fringed by sharp mountains, Samoro School, in a valley accessed by a skinny dirt track running beneath towering Madre de Cacao trees and coffee bushes, and the Carmelite Sisters’ Health Clinic back in Maubisse town. Kim Groizard lent a hand at both Rimori and Samoro Schools , enabling her to see a functional outreach clinic in TL in action. As we all know, working in TL has its unique challenges and peculiarities! (Pic: Phil, Isa & Kim)
Week 1 was peppered with meetings, but the most crucial was that with the Chiefs of all the Sucos (akin to shires) in the Maubisse Subdistrict. Phil, Nico and the rest of the gang remained slogging at Samoro, while Blanche, Kim and Inda attended this meeting with George in tow (SSDC will function under the BMFC umbrella). At what Kim described as a “horse auction”, the chiefs sought to get more services for their Sucos. In the end, we came out with a working plan of cooperation between the Chiefs, the Carmelite Sisters, the MRH, the TLDP and the SSDC. Success! (Pic: The view from Rimori)
The weekend, as always, brought the changeover and we said goodbye to the cool hills of Maubisse, the Maubisse crew, and to Kim and George. We were now a solely TLDP team. Blanche, Phil, Nico and Isabel happily welcomed Dr Mary Tuituinnik; less welcome was the oppressive heat and humidity of the coast .
Week 2 had a different flavour to it – the climate introduces an additional layer of difficulty to our job. Also, by that time, both Nico and Blanche were ill; nevertheless, the team carried on – they spent 2 days in the slightly cooler climes of Vatuvou School, in the foothills behind Maubara, and a day in each of the airless, dusty, piping hot schools of Ediri and Vatunau, with one fan, a tin roof and a generator. What made the week flow easily was Phil’s can-do, ever-optimistic attitude, Mary’s gentle humour, Isa’s graceful, caring nature, Nico’s dogged work ethic, and the non-stop gentle pitter patter of Phil and Mary’s chatter – those two can talk underwater!
One of the days we spent assessing and mentoring a dental therapist, Savio, who the SSDC hopes to employ. Like most of the dental therapists we come across in TL, his skills are woefully lacking; however, with the right attitude towards learning, and with lots of support, we know that he could become an excellent clinician. Many of the dental therapists we mentor are now excellent clinicians. (Pic: Savio, Isa & Mary)
Week 2 also had its share of meetings as the TLDP worked with Phil (with his SSDC hat on) to establish more connections in TL. There were many trips back and forth on the Dili Road – meetings with Judite and Mario from the Rotary Liaison in Dili, the Rotary Club Lafaek in Dili, and the Rotary Club Dili at the Klibur Domin Tuberculosis Clinic in Tibar, with a fortuitous meeting with another new dental NGO in Tibar, which works within Kilbur Domin, under the Ryder-Cheshire banner. Developing links is important, especially in this setting, as it allows us to support each other and to share resources – TL is an impossible place to work in solo.
Blanche had meetings with Sr Inacia about the Sister Delfina who the TLDP hopes to support in her dental studies in Indonesia. The TLDP believes that local ownership is the only way for a program to be sustainable. Although Nico is hardworking and committed, he is a “mere” dental therapist and so lacks the clout that being a dentist would give him. He also has family ties that may force him to leave the program one day. Hence – in supporting Sister Delfina to become a dentist we hope to safeguard the program for the future. However, the TLDP was originally led to believe that the degree would cost approx USD 9000 for the first year of study. Instead, it is closer to USD 29000 – a big difference! Nevertheless, we are determined to support her – I see some fundraising in our future!
Team 1 luckily had few equipment issues – 3 broken triplexes, a non-functioning generator, malfunctioning head torches, a dental unit water leak, a total loss of water supply in the accommodation in Maubisse and, at the end, a broken air-conditioning fan belt in the SIsters’ car. Most they managed to fix during the 2 weeks! (Pic: Isabel, Blanche & an iPhone)
Team 1 saw a total of 415 patients, extracted 363 teeth, restored 245 teeth and carried out 39 treatments. With the TLDPs support, the MHR and Nico had screened, given oral health education and carried out a selected treatment to 1439 children prior to the Team’s arrival. A fine example of what cooperation can accomplish!
Thank you to the entire team – you make this program. Thank you to Bony Cardoso Martins, who continues to help us with our Timorese dental registration, which is an exercise in tedium. Thank you especially to Henry Schein Halas, who continues to support our program with stacks of consumables and equipment team after team, year after year. Your generous donations allow us to give more to the Timorese people. Thank you also to SDI who has also helped us with donated materials over several years. Thank you to our partners, the Carmelite Sisters who, with their grace and good company, make it a joy to work in TL. (Pic: Phil, Sr Joaninha, Blanche, Sr Isabel, Mary)
It seems like we’ve just stopped to draw breath from the helter-skelter of 2017, yet here we are – 6% of 2018 already done. So the TLDP year begins with an admin and planning trip. This is especially needed this year, as we lost our beautiful Timorese coordinator, Sr Filomena, to the Oe-cusse Carmelite Community at the end of 2017. Armed with calendars, forms, and loads of blank paper, Dr Blanche Tsetong is set to head to TL for 3 intense days of meetings and brainstorming. Of course, she’ll be taking some much needed supplies – we can’t let that valuable luggage-space go to waste!
Blanche will be meeting with Sr Inacia, one of the heads of the Carmelite order in TL and, at the same time, she hopes to meet the young Sr Anna, whose dental studies we hope to support in Indonesia. Whilst in Dili, she will also be meeting with the Ministry of Health to discuss the ongoing saga of dental registration. Then a big planning session is in the works with Bony, Nico and Sr Joaninha in Maubara. With Sr Filomena gone, the coordinator role will be shifted onto Nico, the dental therapist, who will be aided by the redoubtable Bony. As the only dental clinician within several districts, Nico has a big job ahead of him.
The Ermera and Maubisse contingent will be met back in Dili – Blanche is looking forward to a big gathering of some of our long-standing, dedicated Timorese clinicians – Tino from Gleno, Dr Inda from Maubisse, Ana Paula from Balibo, and Ana Tilman from the Kose Nehan Program in Aileu. These people are a joy to be with. There is much work to do, especially now that the TLDP bas been joined by two NGOs, the Bendigo-Maubisse Friendship Association and Solar Smiles. We all want to help, but it takes effort not to get in each other’s way. We will be looking to our Timorese friends for guidance!!!
And fingers crossed – at the end…..we’ll have a plan for 2018!!!! Wish us luck!
It seems that the years fly by faster and faster as we get older. Here we are again at the end of the year, with the silly season looming. At this time, I reflect upon everything that has happened during the year – good and bad – all our achievements, all our losses, and how we have handled it all.
This year has been tumultuous for the Timor Leste Dental Program; we hired a new dental therapist, Nico Pires, at the beginning of the year, in a bid to increase the local ownership for the program. He has proved to be a true asset – a hardworking and competent clinician, who is unafraid to take charge even in the presence of some extremely authoritative (bossy) Aussie dentists. We simultaneously entered into a partnership with the Maubisse-Bendigo Friendship Association, which has increased the support for the Maubisse District, but has also had the effect of increasing (temporarily, we hope!) our workload, as we bring these newcomers up to speed. Maubisse Hospital acquired a new dentist – Dr Inda Zulmira Días – who has already shown her skill in organising the Maubisse sectors for Teams 1 and 5, as well as an ability to connect with the community though our dental workshops. Everyone who got to work with her this year fell in love with her charm and enthusiasm.
Overshadowing everything was a great deal of frustration dealing with the moving goal posts of the new Timorese dental registration process – delays, lengthy meetings with government officials, multiple trips to Dili, mountains of paperwork, and emails, and submission and resubmission of documents…this is still ongoing. All the teams felt the absence of our translator, and friend, Bony, who was in his final year at university. Although he couldn’t work with the teams, he still set aside time to help the TLDP with the registration, as well as sorting out many other details for our teams. Thank you Bony!
The TLDP sent over 5 teams this year. We had a host of new volunteers – Dr Mary Tuituinnik, Dr Marius Mocke, Mrs Yvette Young, Ms Abbey Notley, Ms Liz Thompson, Dr Mengzhu Wang, Ms Malita McCabe, Dr Andrew Frame, Dr Phil Hill and Dr Christine Underhill. It was wonderful to see the way these new volunteers took the Timorese people into their hearts. We also saw the return of our regulars – Dr John Moran, Dr David Digges, Dr Wayne Pearson, Dr Karen Sloan, Dr Geoff Knight, Dr David Sheen, Dr Blanche Tsetong, Ms Bella Miller, Dr John Whyte, Dr Ashley Freeman and Dr Peter Shakes. The people who return, year after year, is what keeps this program running. They are gold.
Sadly, two of our team leaders, Wayne Pearson and David Sheen, claimed that this was their so-called ‘last’ trip to Timor; however, it is hard to resist Timor’s siren song – we think that Timor hasn’t seen the back of them yet! However, by far the biggest blow to the program this year, was the loss of Sr Filomena da Costa – our Timorese Program Coordinator. The Carmelite exec ruled that she had to move to Oecusse to head the community over there; as a relatively young community, they need someone with her 26 years of experience. In one fall swoop we have lost our boss, the best chef in Timor, our spiritual advisor, local folklorist and a quirky, mischievous friend. No prizes for guessing that everyone will be vying for the Oecusse spot from now on! Nico and Sr Joaninha have big shoes to fill.
This year the TLDP treated over 2330 people; we extracted over 1851 teeth, placed over 937 fillings, and carried out 411 preventive treatments. This treatment is worth about $977,650. We facilitated one dental workshop and mentored 6 Timorese dental clinicians over a period of 10 weeks.
We would like to wholeheartedly thank all our fabulous volunteers, who never stint on giving their time and effort to the Timorese people. We would also like to thank their families and friends who support them – they would not be able to do what they do without you. Thank you to all our Timorese workers, partners and helpers. There are always a multitude of local people, often unsung and unseen, who help keep the program running while we are over there – they are teachers, drivers, groundsmen, elders, nurses, passersby – they give because they can, and we are awed by them. A massive thank you to Henry Schein Halas and SDI for their extremely generous donations to our program this year – we would not be able to function without your donations of vital dental materials and equipment. Last, but not least, thank you to our donors – 97% of your valuable contributions go directly towards helping the Timorese people. We are more than grateful for your support. Your contributions pay for equipment and vehicle maintenance, for material and equipment purchases and for the salaries of Nico and other Timorese translators and fixers. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
From all of us at the Timor Leste Dental Program, we wish all our volunteers, our supporters, our donors, our partners and their families, a happy Christmas. We wish you all the best for the new year. Keep safe and well and we will see you in 2018.
This Monday marks the arrival of our third team in TL this year. The team comprises team leader, Dr Wayne Pearson, boomerang volunteers – Dr Karen Sloan and the hardcore supernurse, Mrs Sally Stephens; as well as new blood, Dr Marius Mocke and Ms Abbey Notley; the eastern states of Australia are well-represented here – Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland! Along with Nico, it’s a BIG team! They will be spending their outreach week in the offshore island of Atauro – and braving the big boat – the ‘Nakroma’ – which we have previously used to get to/from Oecusse. The team will be taking 2 vehicles over to Atauro, and the Nakroma is the only boat big enough to carry them. We are a little apprehensive – the last time we put a car onto THAT boat, it nearly fell into the sea! Have fun Team 3! Hope you have red skies at night…..
Team 5, headed by Dr David Digges, arrived home on the weekend, safe and sound. We await their report with much anticipation, however, it may be awhile – we received an unusual call from our lovely Sr Filomena on the day that the team left. The team worked very hard, she reported, and were very tired. What dedication! Well done team and welcome home!!